Choke under pressure? A new study announced this week reveals a simple trick that could keep athletes on the ball during a game's high-pressure moments.
Thirty percent of penalty kicks in professional soccer are missed, as are 20 to 30 percent of NBA free throws, according to The Atlantic. The reason is mostly psychological -- athletes fail not due to a lack of focus but due to more of an over-focus, too much attention directed toward the execution of the action, writes the magazine.
A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General offers a simple solution: clench the fist of your non-dominant hand.
Researchers from the Technical University of Munich in Germany conducted three studies with soccer players, judo practitioners and badminton players. They tested 62 athletes' performance during both normal practice and high-profile moments before large crowds or video cameras. The athletes, all right-handed for the sake of the study, were less likely to choke under pressure when they squeezed a ball in their left hand before competing.
The soccer players squeezed a ball before performing a series of penalty kicks in front of an audience of 300 people. Judo experts kicked sandbags and badminton players performed practice serves while being told they were being videotaped for evaluation by coaches.
"Increasing activation in the right hemisphere decreases activation in the left hemisphere," study researcher Juergen Beckmann told WebMD. "Hemisphere priming" seems to discourage over-thinking in high-pressure situations, writes The Atlantic. "Activating the right hemisphere of the brain by doing a simple action with the left side of the body (making a fist, in this case) appears to negate context-related declines in complex motor performance."
The researchers are now testing the technique in studies with expert musicians. "It might also be useful for surgeons or other professions in which precision, pressure, and highly automated tasks combine," he told WebMD.
A prior study published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2010 found that tightening muscles, such as clenching fists, can help the mind cope with an array of difficult situations from being given an injection to trying to resist a slice of cheesecake.